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Spirit of Giving

December 19, 2013, L. A. Brown

Undergraduate and graduate volunteers from four departments in the College—Criminology and Criminal Justice, Foreign Languages & Literatures, Philosophy, and Psychology—traveled to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice facility in Harrisburg to connect with youth who have known trouble.

Students were invited to speak on a topic of their own choosing. Matt Ryg, doctoral student in Philosophy, says he was told that these kids need to know that there are people in the community who know about them, and care enough to want to spend some time in their company. Matt talked to a group of 45 young people, ranging in age from 14 to 20 years old, about philosophy—“and why I love it.” Perhaps not surprisingly, he seized upon a line from Plato’s Apology about the unexamined life not being worth living. Matt reflects, “The kids loved being intellectually and Socratically provoked, and had a bunch of excellent questions throughout. Overall, it was an invigorating experience for me and I hope the kids I spoke with took something positive from our visit.”

Esmie Zamora, a master’s student in the CCJ program and assistant in CoLA’s UCol 101 course, visited the Harrisburg facility twice, and found it so worthwhile that she has plans to return. Esmie and other CCJ students shared their own experiences about growing up and about their hopes for the future, while encouraging residents to make good decisions even in the face of adversity. Zamora fielded many questions about the college experience, and took a little ribbing about going into law enforcement. She was able to reestablish rapport when she explained to them that she was “not looking to lock everyone up but simply serve my community.” Community service was an idea they could respect, even though they had run afoul of the law.

Ray Wallace, Assistant Superintendent of Programs for IYC, has been eager to host SIU students as motivational speakers to engage with incarcerated youth in order to inspire hope and illustrate new life possibilities.

The hours of time the students have contributed will count as volunteer hours through the Saluki Volunteer Corps. SIU is working with IYC Harrisburg to form a community partnership to formalize continuing volunteer opportunities for these mutually beneficial encounters.

Other students who participated are: Bianca Alaniz, junior in Psychology; Jessica Barnhill, sophomore in German Studies; Bruce Holm, freshman in Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCJ); Karla Keller-Avelar and Joseph Pashea, both in the master’s program in CCJ, and Yesica Porfirio, junior in CCJ.